The trial for three Tacoma Police Department (TPD) officers charged with the death of Manuel “Manny” Ellis, a 33-year-old Black man, is now underway. One of the officers on trial, Timothy Rankine, is Asian American.
Rankine is charged with first-degree manslaughter charges, MyNorthwest reports. His fellow officers Christopher Burbank and Matthew Collins, who are both White, have been charged with second-degree murder. All three have pleaded not guilty.
Jury selection for the trial is expected to take place on Monday, September 18.
Ellis was killed on March 3, 2020, while handcuffed by Tacoma Police officers detaining him. According to KING 5, Ellis had been walking home at night from 7-Eleven after buying some snacks. He stopped to speak with Burbank and Collins who were sitting in their patrol car at a red light.
The officers claimed that Ellis was trying to break into another car before he began attacking their patrol car, MyNorthwest reports. However, witness statements say that it was actually the officers who jumped out of the car first. Witnesses say that they saw Burbank and Collins hit Ellis repeatedly but that they did not see Ellis strike the officers.
According to court documents, Collins placed Ellis in a neck restraint while Burbank fired his taser directly into the 33-year-old’s chest, KING 5 reports. Prosecutors say the officers then use their radio to alert other officers that they are “experiencing ‘unknown trouble.'”
Witnesses recording the incident can be heard screaming at the officers, asking them to stop.
Rankine was the first officer to respond. When he arrived, he applied pressure to Ellis’ back while the other officers “hogtied” Ellis, court documents state.
According to My Northwest, a home security camera captures Ellis tell the officer “I can’t breathe, sir!,” to which he responds, “Shut the (expletive) up, man.”
More officers arrived and eventually, dispatch asked if Ellis needed medical assistance. By the time the fire department came, Ellis was already unconscious and unresponsive.
Pierce County medical examiner ruled his death a homicide, saying he died due to a lack of oxygen from physical restraint. According to Tacoma News Tribune, the officers’ defense lawyers hope to undermine the cause of death with evidence that there was methamphetamine in his system.
Ellis’ death came just two months before George Floyd’s. It sparked a movement for racial justice in Tacoma and the state of Washington.
In August 2020, Ellis’ loved ones gathered alongside community members at South 11th Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way to celebrate what would have been his 34th birthday. According to KNKX, artists began painting a mural that day in his honor.
Jury selection of the trial will be kept private but KING 5 plans to livestream the trial once opening statements begin on October 2.
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